Duggie Brown obituary
Duggie Brown, who has died aged 82, worked for years on the north of England club circuit as a singer and standup comic before gaining national recognition on television in the 1970s in the quickfire gag show The Comedians.
When the director Ken Loach cast him in the classic 1969 film Kes, he also showed an ability to bring realism to character roles on screen. This gave him another career, as an actor, mostly on television, in both dramas and comedies.
Notable for his cheerful face, bow tie and long, dark, George Best-style locks, Brown was 30 when The Comedians made him a household name, alongside other standup performers such as Frank Carson, Bernard Manning, Ken Goodwin and Charlie Williams. These previously little-known northern comics performed their acts in front of a studio audience and the funniest jokes were edited together so that viewers saw a gag from one comedian followed instantly by one from another – with up to 50 featured in each show.
Brown appeared in The Comedians during its early years, from 1971 to 1974, and returned in 1985 and again eight years later, for a Christmas special reuniting some of the surviving stars in a final episode.
In more recent times, the show has been derided for its bigoted and blue jokes, but Brown largely managed to steer clear of such material, sticking instead to tales of parrots, pigs in pubs, marriage and his home area of South Yorkshire. “They caught two punk rockers in Doncaster,” ran one joke. “One was drinking battery acid and the other was chewing fireworks, so the police charged one and let the other off.”
Brown was ever-present on TV light entertainment shows for two decades, popping up in episodes of the music-hall series The Good Old Days (between 1971 and 1983), The Wheeltappers & Shunters Social Club (in 1974 and 1975), the gameshow 3-2-1 (from 1978 to 1984) and many others.
His chance to act came when Loach was scouting around South Yorkshire to cast Kes, based on Barry Hines’s novel A Kestrel for a Knave, about a Barnsley schoolboy, Billy Casper, who finds refuge in training a bird while facing the prospect of a life down the local pit. The director had just started casting club acts in his dramas, bringing to the screen authentic local accents, a lack of self-consciousness and the performers’ ability to think on their feet – especially when not told what was going to happen in the story, a trick Loach used to trigger realism.
Brown’s sister, Lynne Perrie, a cabaret singer and later Coronation Street star (as Ivy Tilsley), landed a leading role as Billy’s neglectful mother after Loach saw her on stage in Barnsley. Brown, recommended by a Leeds theatrical agency, was given the small part of a milkman from whom Billy steals eggs and milk.
Loach, who regarded Brown as a good team player, always arriving with a smile and ready with an impromptu line, then cast him in three television plays, most prominently as the besuited assistant colliery manager in The Price of Coal (1977). Hines’s two-part story, set at a pit in the same landscape inhabited by Kes, starts with comedy, the cleaning up of the mine for a royal visit, and finishes with tragedy, an explosion killing two miners.
Brown also took the title role in The House That Jack Built (1977), a six-part serial written by Shelagh Delaney charting 10 years of a marriage, with Sharon Duce playing his wife. They were husband and wife again when Brown starred as Billy Clough in The Hard Word (1983), a drama about the impact of redundancy on two families.
In TV sitcom, he drew on his own experience to star in Take My Wife (1979) as Harvey Hall, a struggling comic in northern clubs, whose wife (played by Elisabeth Sladen) is supportive but fails to understand the demands of show business, while his mother-in-law (Joan Benham) looks on him with disdain. Shortly afterwards, in The Glamour Girls (1980), written by David Nobbs, he played the self-styled entrepreneur Ernest Garstang, running a sales promotion agency.
Brown was born Barry Dudley in Rotherham, which was then in the West Riding of Yorkshire, to Eric Dudley, a bricklayer, and Agnes (nee Donoghue). On leaving Rotherham technical college, he worked for a Sheffield steelmaker, Jessop-Saville & Company, gathering readings at the top of a furnace. When he had some success singing and playing the guitar in the Four Imps pop group in clubs and on the TV show Six-Five Special (1957-58), he left his day job. The band went through two name changes, to the Four Kool Katz and the Douglas Browne Four, before he switched to comedy under the name Duggie Brown in 1968.
His other TV plays as an actor included Say Goodnight to Your Grandma (1970), Slattery’s Mounted Foot (1970) and Leeds – United! (1974), all written by Colin Welland, and Jack Rosenthal’s Another Sunday and Sweet FA (1972), in which he played a Sunday football team’s coach. Later, he was Phil Strong, a laboratory technician, in the detective series The Enigma Files (1980).
In soaps, as well as playing the club compere Ray Piper in Brookside during 1994 and taking small roles in EastEnders (2003) and Emmerdale (2018), Brown had three parts in Coronation Street: George Freeman, original owner of the Hour Glass bar, where Liz McDonald worked (1997); Bernie Cooper, married to Rula Romanoff (a cameo by Honor Blackman), swingers who propositioned Rita Tanner and Norris Cole (2004); and Ted Spear, a pensioner who died after being accidentally run over by Faye Windass (2022).
He took his acting skills to the stage on tour with the Northern Broadsides theatre company as the Fool in King Lear (1999) and Patrick, the father, in the Brontë family drama We Are Three Sisters (2011). He also toured as the club impresario Mr Boo in Jim Cartwright’s comedy The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (2012-13).
Brown’s first marriage, to Margaret Cooper in 1961, ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Jackie Grimwood, whom he married in 1982, and the daughter of his first marriage, also called Jackie.
• Duggie Brown (Barry Douglas Dudley), comedian and actor, born 7 August 1940; died 16 August 2022